She may have tipped him off outside the Belmech garage and made him miss Bellingen’s centenary Beersheba Day service on October 31, but David “Buffalo” O’Brien wants only the best for his heritage horse Lilly Pilly and her first foal, Callistemon.
In fact, he’s dedicated thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours to helping the tiny filly, born January 1, recover from the broken leg she sustained when she was barely ten days old.
Buffalo isn’t sure how the accident happened.
“She could of got bustled about in the paddock, or she could have been running too hard,” he says. “There’s lots of things that can cause these breaks. Their bones are very fragile.”
Buffalo lives at Dundurrabin near Dorrigo but keeps heritage horses for his business “Buffalo’s Brumbies” at properties in Bellingen and Raleigh.
The people at Raleigh who keep an eye on them quickly let him know that the filly’s right foreleg was dangling oddly.
“We got a splint onto her with my vet Monica, and Jocelyn, a vet from Urunga, came and did a mobile xray and said it was broken,” he says. “So we had the option – to put her down or try and save her.”
With heavy bodies, lightweight legs and a tendency to startle, the prognosis for a horse with a broken leg is usually poor and the most common outcome is euthanasia.
However, foals are more lightly built and their bones are actively growing, which aids recovery.
Buffalo elected to try to save Callie, and so what followed was a succession of casts that had to be sawn off and reapplied (under sedation) as the filly grew.
At first she could only hobble about inside with the cast on, but three months later she’s just wearing a dressing over the knee and “she’s actually walking quite well”, Buffalo says.
He reels off a list of people who have helped with Callie’s recuperation, including the veterinarians; Bellingen Showground Trust, who supplied the stable; Chrissy, Michael and Ted; and various sponsors who have contributed money and hay.
Asked why he decided to save this filly, he mentions both her bloodline and her beauty.
“She’s the first foal for Lilly Pilly and also Clematis Asteria’s first foal,” he says. “And she’s beautiful. I bred Lilly Pilly. She comes from stock that I have caught, brumby stallions and a quarter horse mare.”
Buffalo caught the quarter horse, Lilly Pilly’s grandmother Cool, when she strayed from a property near Dorrigo.
He bought her for a carton of beer, and then employed her to lure brumby stallions from the Guy Fawkes National Park.
This was in the 1990s, he says, before the controversial cull that saw the wild horses being shot from the air, prompting a study that revealed their heritage value as descendants of the ‘Walers’, Australia’s wartime cavalry horses.
Buffalo has built his life around working with these heritage horses – breeding, catching and training them.
“It runs in the family,” he says. “My great grandfather was a horse breaker.”
He sells them too, but reckons he will hang onto Callie.
“I think she’s a keeper,” he says. “She owes me too much.”